Amongst his England teammates, Chris Woakes is known as the ‘Wizard’, for his ability to stay cool under pressure, and master anything he turns his hand to.
He certainly conjured up a bit of magic in the final over of the Three Lions’ third ODI against New Zealand on Saturday, bowling dot balls off the last two deliveries of the match to seal victory by just four runs.
To do it to a set batsman in Kane Williamson, whose unbeaten century had dragged the Blackcaps back into contention, showed Woakes’ ability at the death – handing England their 20th win in 24 ODIs, and a 2-1 series lead.
It’s all to play for as we reach the fourth match of five in Dunedin, with victory for England giving them the series honours, while a New Zealand one would take it to a decider in Christchurch.
The hosts have history on their side.
In 14 internationals at the University Oval, they have never lost – winning all six of the ODIs played at the south island venue.
Their most recent trip to Dunedin, in January, saw an emphatic 183 run victory over Pakistan – part of a winning run of ten on the spin in fifty-over cricket, which has only been halted by England in the last two matches.
Captain Williamson is in form after that century in Wellington, and will be re-joined in the middle order by Ross Taylor, who posted a ton in the first game of the series – and his return will be a huge boost.
They are dangerous with the ball too – Trent Boult has taken 12 wickets at nine apiece in four ODIs at Dunedin, including 5/17 in that match against Pakistan earlier this year.
Capable of beating anyone on their day, New Zealand are 5/4 with Grosvenorsport.com for this one.
England don’t lose many games in this format, however, and in Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Woakes, they have players who can turn the game in an instant with bat or ball.
With a home-soil World Cup next year approaching fast on the horizon, Eoin Morgan’s men would love another scalp to add to their collection, after series wins over West Indies, South Africa and Australia in the last 12 months.
An England win, which would seal the series, is 13/20.
For me, it’s difficult to look past the Three Lions.
While Taylor, Williamson and Boult are world-class, the likes of Henry Nicholls and Colin de Grandhomme have a whiff of the bits-and-pieces about there, whereas England don’t seem to have any weak links.
That includes in the field – taking a record four run-outs in the second match of this series. Over 1.5 run outs in the match at 9/4 could be a good punt.
With cloudy conditions forecast, the ball should swing too – and given his form, I suggest backing Chris Woakes to cast a few more spells and be the top bowler at 6/1.
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